What about head tossing?


When a horse throws its head while a rider is on its back, that tells us something is wrong.

Head throwing communicates surprise and discomfort, but it can also be a sign of a rebellious attitude. In communicating to our horses, we do not want to be surprising them. We usually surprise them by not having clear body language or voice, and by not giving them enough time to respond before we crank down on them.

Before we pull to stop or turn, or kick to go, we need to be giving horses easier warning signals prior to the more uncomfortable versions, like pulling on their mouths with the bit. This is one of the most important distinctions between experienced horse people and novices. Our easier signals are body language and voice noises. Horses are very perceptive and can pick up consistent body language that is performed before pulling on the reins, kicking with feet, or tapping with hands or stick (although I would rather tap with a stick to substitute pulling harder on the reins). Usually people do not get results here, because they do not have well-defined body language for asking a horse to move faster or slower, turn left or right, or do something else. On the other hand, a rider might not be giving the right discomfort at the right time, making it hard for the horse to do the wrong thing and therefore easier to do the right thing.

Mike Daniels

Mike Daniels

When we first teach horses to respond to our body language, we must exaggerate it so it is more obvious. If we want a horse to give us energy, we must show it. If we want a horse to relax or slow we must show that. I call this “Jesus Christ stuff,” because we are not telling the horse as much as we are showing them. When I critique a human I am training on this, I usually tell them that they are asking a horse to do something that they are not doing. A person must realize also that a big part of the reason they may not show energy to a horse is that they are not confident themselves. In this case, they must try to at least act confident and practice exuberance, so they may take it on for real in time.

Their horse needs it real or not, and in time it will be real! On the other hand, we need to practice calm low energy in order to bring a horse’s energy down to slow them. This might be hard when we are nervous or scared, but again we can practice it so it eventually will be real as we gain confidence. Voice should be exaggerated as well as body language – sharp high-energy noises for go and lazy low energy noises for slow.

After our body language and voice clearly matches our intent, then we need to be aware of our timing. Most people do not give horses enough time between their soft signals and their enforcement of them. It is a thinking process for both humans and horses and it must be thought of that way. This helps us process what happens when and how to better receive it as well as apply our response to it.
Discomfort causes a horse to throw its head as well as surprise and timing. The best way to deal with this is to make sure we add discomfort slowly and take it away quickly when the animal responds. The most important thing here is to communicate to the horse that the answer is down. To make this real clear to the horse, I do what I call the head down exercise. We can back up to a fence so we make it clear to the horse that we are not asking them to back when we are doing this. We then slowly apply pressure to the bit through the reins. The horse will try to move its head in different positions in order to get away from pressure. The split second the head makes even the slightest move downward, we release quickly. This exercise will help the human communicate to a horse that it gets relief when the head goes down, not up. We then begin to practice this as we put a horse in motion. If we are truly religious (consistent) about this, the horse will stop throwing its head up.

Head throwing can also be attributed to rebelliousness. A horse finds out that it can play yo-yo with our hands so it then takes the bit and pulls the reins through our hands. This is where we need to develop “hands of steel” to not let them do this. An old saying that refers to a good horse person’s hands is “hands of steel in velvet gloves.” This is where we need to be as hard as steel in one way, and soft as a baby kitten in another. This helps us reward a horse for good head position as well as discourage them from head throwing.

We show a horse this through example, setting it up to find it, rather than forcing it as we follow the example of God himself in Jesus Christ.

Mike Daniels is a horsemanship trainer and barefoot trimming specialist from Raymondville. Email: